The Washington legislature has passed and Gov. Christine Gregoire has now signed into law S.B. 5688 that makes unlawful shark finning a crime.
The introduction to the new law explains the "practice of shark finning, where a shark is caught, its fins are sliced off while it is still alive, and the animal returned to the sea severely and almost always fatally wounded, constitutes a serious threat to Washington’s coastal ecosystem and biodiversity.
"Sharks are particularly susceptible to overfishing because they only reach sexual maturity between seven to twelve years of age and hatch or birth small litters. The destruction of the population of sharks, which reside at the top of the marine food chain, is an urgent problem that upsets the balance of species in the ocean ecosystem….
"Shark finning condemns millions of sharks every year to slow, painful deaths. Returned to the water without their fins, the maimed sharks are attacked by other predators or drown, because most shark species must swim in order to push water through their gills. Shark finning is therefore a cruel practice…The market for shark fins drives the brutal practice of shark finning. Shark finning and trade in shark fins and shark fin derivative products are occurring all along the Pacific Coast, including the state of Washington.
"The consumption of shark fins and shark fin derivative products by humans may cause serious health risks, including risks from mercury."
What the law prohibits
Under the new law the crime of "unlawful trade in shark fins in the second degree" includes anyone who "sells, offers for sale, purchases, offers to purchase, or otherwise exchanges a shark fin or shark fin derivative product for commercial purposes; or …prepares or processes a shark fin or shark fin derivative product for human or animal consumption for commercial purposes".
The crime is a gross misdemeanor means loss of a commercial fishing license for 1 year.
If the market value of the fins or derivative product is $250 or more, then the crime is elevated to unlawful trade in shark fins in the first degree. The crime will also be charged in the first degree if the shark was taken illegally or by an unlicensed person, or if the violation is within 5 years of a prior conviction for this crime or any other gross misdemeanor or felony involving fish, not including "recreational fishing" violations.
Unlawful trade in shark fins in the first degree is a class C felony. Conviction means suspension of any commercial fishing privileges that requires a license for one year.
Research and education exceptions
Licenses or permits, however, can be issued to take or possess sharks or the fins for "bona fide research or educational purposes".